The Sketch: Fittingly, final PMQs fails to rise from the trough

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The Independent Online

When Nick Clegg stood and pointed at the other two front benches saying, "He – and he – ", everyone shouted with laughter and MPs started chanting hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!" If only Clegg had started "Who!" they would have been the very image of bench monkeys.

One Labour fellow said that under the Tories we'd be eating in soup kitchens, and another that we'd be allying ourselves with the Waffen SS. "Bye bye!" they chorused derisively at each other when the last PMQs of this parliament was over.

It sets the standard, doesn't it? It establishes the tone. Somewhat below Corinthian, somewhat above the noise that pot-bellied pigs make when trying to get other pot-bellied pigs into the rutting position.

One of the government patsies kicked off the session with this: "If he is re-elected, will the PM guarantee that he will not take £6bn out of the economy?"

Many people find this a reasonable question. It makes no sense to me at all. When I ask people about it they look at me as though I'm trying to be difficult.

As it's the central question in the central proposition it's worth looking at, just to measure the scale of the Tory failure to win arguments.

Gordon is proposing a 1 per cent tax rise on payrolls to raise £12bn, and the Tories are proposing the same tax rise but only at half the level. Thus, Gordon says, Tories are (selfishly, destructively) "taking £6bn out of the economy".

In this world view, tax puts money into the economy.

Tax creates jobs. Is that it? Gordon has finally abandoned the Mandelsonian, New Labourist, filthy-richism and come clean with a direct assertion of solid, socialist economic thinking.

And while it's a shift in presentation, it's also true that he has created the better part of a million state sector jobs – paid for by 40 or 50 per cent higher taxes. But if tax puts money into the economy, if tax creates jobs and growth – why not have more of it? Why stop at national insurance at 12 or 15 or 25 per cent?

The Tories haven't dismantled this, or even approached it. It all goes back five or six years to their failure to make "the moral case for low taxation".

Cameron feels he has enough to chew on and asked Gordon if he would admit to destroying British pensions, killing troopers by denying them helicopters, and planning to wreck the recovery. The PM felt unable to confirm these suggestions.

NB: news from the wash-up, so-called. I had offered to eat my hat if the backbench Business Committee got through the Commons. It was against all Sketch theory – government giving away any sliver of power to Parliament. House business was to be scheduled for debate by the House itself, in the form of this committee. The deal was accepted, approved and passed all its stages. Amazing! Roast me a trilby. Oh, but quite out of the blue, the committee was canned. There isn't room for the details, but ex-chief whip Hilary Armstrong, in conjunction with current chief whip Nick Brown (to cries of "Shame!") killed it at the last minute, yesterday. The fact that I'm pleased shows how far on to the dark side I've gone.

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